My view: Hinchey bill harmful to Utah

By Rob Bishop

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 30 2009 12:02 a.m. MDT

For the past 20 years, Red Rock wilderness legislation has been introduced each Congress due to the vigorous lobbying of well-funded special-interest groups and out-of-state supporters. Unfortunately, these groups and the bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York, fail to acknowledge the harmful effects it will have on the residents of Utah.

It is important to note that this flawed and antiquated bill is not supported by a single federally elected official from Utah. This fact speaks volumes. Part of the reason for this unanimous opposition is that the Hinchey bill advocates locking up nearly 20 percent of the state. Closing one-fifth of the state from economic activity would have dramatic negative effects on education funding, employment, local and state tax revenues, energy production and quality of life.

At its basic level, the Hinchey bill includes large swaths of land that simply do not fit the legal definition of wilderness.

Another problem is this bill, as far as we've seen, has no official maps or descriptions. It just lists areas and acreage. The public is right to be skeptical of a Congress that votes on bills it has not seen. Supporters of the Hinchey bill are now asking politicians to consider a wilderness bill that will be left to bureaucrats to draw up. This is not a serious way to legislate. Utah deserves better.

Any wilderness designation inevitably involves trade-offs. One is that wilderness designation locks up land that could produce vital domestic-energy resources. With each passing year, the costs to our nation of growing dependence on foreign sources of oil are becoming more evident. This bill makes the problem worse.

The Hinchey bill would devastate Utah's local economy during the current economic recession and render impossible any long-term economic opportunities for the people I was elected to serve. The negative economic impacts will be immense, in mining, farming, energy development, ranching and real estate development. Further, it represents a model of wilderness designation that engenders conflict, ignores local input and leads to gridlock. Simply put, this bill is a relic of a bygone era.

Despite these problems, the main issue isn't whether protecting certain lands in Utah is worthwhile. The issue is whether the top-down approach taken in the Hinchey bill is the best way to do it. The Hinchey approach amplifies rather than alleviates public land disputes and, subsequently, has failed to lead to any actual wilderness designation.

In contrast, members of the Utah congressional delegation have supported a successful model for wilderness designations in both the Cedar Mountain and Washington County legislation. Both of these bills were produced with community input and local grass-roots support. Most importantly, they reached the political consensus necessary to actually become law.

The passage of these two bills shows that wilderness can be done the right way. The new wilderness paradigm represented by these homegrown bills also demonstrates that when all of the stakeholders stick with a locally driven process, good ideas emerge and consensus is possible.

Tomorrow's hearing on the Hinchey legislation may be the bill's first, but I also expect it to be its last. The Hinchey approach is the outdated model of doing wilderness. Utah and the country have moved onto a new wilderness paradigm, one that emphasizes stakeholder buy-in and an organic, from the ground-up, approach.

My main objective tomorrow will be to ensure that the overreaching, antiquated model of wilderness designation as represented by the Hinchey bill will quickly become a relic of the past.

Rob Bishop is the Utah representative for the 1st Congressional District.

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